Chamber president Rick Karp phoned last week to say Tony Clement was coming this week.
“Is he announcing a gazebo?” Karp was asked.
He didn’t bite.
And to his credit, Karp still asked if media wanted to ask Clement questions after his presentation.
We did. And he set it up.
We didn’t ask about gazebos. It seemed a good decision.
Clement would easily put off answering such questions. And blinkered conservatives would simply see it as another attack on their glass palace.
Besides, there were other questions, more relevant to the territory, to ask the minister in the limited time we were given.
Still, the gazebo issue demands attention.
After several months, the issue still swirls around Clement. And for good reason.
As Treasury Board president, Clement is responsible for cutting government spending. He’s also responsible for ethics and accountability.
The former is important to the Conservative Party, which leveraged the Liberal sponsorship scandal, often involving grants doled out by politicians with no documentation, to gain power. So, accountability and ethics are a cornerstone of the Harper government’s mandate.
Which is why Clement’s gazebo, built on our dime in his Muskoka riding to “reduce border congestion”- hundreds of kilometres from any border – is an issue.
It was one of 32 pork-barrel projects Clement built with $50 million earmarked for the G8 summit. Like the much ballyhooed Liberal scam, there is nothing to document why the Muskoka millions were spent.
There has been no transparency, no disclosure.
Like sponsorship, it suggests a breakdown in the system.
Not a single bureaucrat challenged the decision, suggested tweaks, or argued why such spending would be a good idea.
In the absence of such official paper, it looks as if Clement and then-infrastructure minister John Baird simply cherrypicked goodies in the run-up to an election campaign.
The spending decision, a single line item in the $1-billion G8 spending orgy, was also overlooked by the opposition. It, too, failed to spot the problem.
Another failure in our government’s system of accountability.
It took then auditor-general Sheila Fraser to point out the problem. She was, by and large, ignored.
And, in the House of Commons, the affair still has not been explained. Clement won’t answer questions on the matter.
Worse, he’s now in charge of ethics and is responsible for reducing federal spending – after several years of Conservative government, Canada is now running a significant budget deficit.
Clement has vowed to save money by cutting government programs over the next four years.
Those cuts have begun.
And, curiously, the federal audit office has seen major cuts. There will now be 92 fewer auditors overseeing government spending, Lawrence Martin notes in an incisive column in Wednesday’s Globe and Mail.
Bottom line, Clement has a lot to answer for – the Muskoka affair cuts to the heart of a government built on accountability and ethics.
Clement was in town talking about the deficit, transfers and cuts.
In siphoning off $50 million that was supposed to improve the Canadian border, Clement violated the public trust.
He also contributed to the debt he is now responsible for cutting.
Clement explained how he was going to protect the territory’s transfer.
And he laid out how he was going to trim government program spending by $11 billion over the next several years.
All of which leads to some good questions.
“What, specifically, is Clement going to do to improve ethics and accountability when it comes to government spending?
“How will government ensure federal ministers can’t pilfer tens of millions of dollars for personal political gain in the future?”
And, finally, “What makes you the right guy for this job?”